When the pandemic started to ramp up around March 2020 I was very happy to see the 3D printing community come together as one and started printing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) a.k.a. face shields. I don’t have the capability of tracking down the very first person printing such thing, but one very notable player in this scene was Josef Průša and his company Prusa Research. They have published their take on such face shields which many people have adopted and started to print all around the world.
I was also looking for a way to put my own printer to good use. I emailed a nearby hospital but got no response. Only by chance I found out that there is a makerspace in my area who already made a headstart in all of this with a dozen or so printers. I immediately emailed them, got a callback from them the next day and started printing the design they were using – which was to no surpsise of mine a Prusa PPE design, namely the RC2 variant of it.
Initially we were only printing one Face Shield at a time. It took somewhere around the neighborhood of 3-3.5 hours to print one, albeit with conservative settings. At home I started to experiment with the settings and was able to push down the print time to 1h10m – 1h20m eventually. Next up my goal was to be able print more than one face shield at a time so I turned to Fusion 360 and redesigned Prusa’s RC3 model. Made a tower of 6 face shields and optimised it for 0.3mm layer height (Prusa’s was for 0.25mm). This model included tiny spacers in between the face shields and built-in support for the pins – overall it required minimal post processing to separate the face shields and get going with the rest of a workflow. All this meant that we were printing 6 face shields at a time in one printer in under 8.5h-9h – instead of one face shield at a time at 3.5h.
Along the way (apart from personally printing over 200 face shields at home and well over 2000 at the makerspace) I’ve learnt a lot. Found a lot of slicer tweeks how to print faster while maintaining the quality – and yes, there were times when we pushed it too far resulting in failures, clogs and maintainance downtime. I improved my skills in Fusion 360 as well while redesigning the model to suit our needs. I also serviced a good amount of printers to get them back to print, changed extruder, nozzles, stepper motors, even control boards, tensioned belts, cleaned nozzle clogs, replaced PTFE tube – you name it. It was definitely beneficial for me personally to improve in these areas and just the thought of maybe these face shields have helped someone is more than enough of a payback for me.
Here is a timelapse video of printing a stack of 6 face shields: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umBz7fcuZnI
And here is a local news segment about our “operation” at the makerspace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78dmVemUqjk
Below is a gallary – not hiding the failures, while the material went to the waste on those, we’ve learnt from those too: